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Mother Nature Needed Lots of Help with Colt Named Lucky

By Robert Boswell
Publisher, Wild Pony Tales

Originally posted June 7, 2012

No one may know how many foals have been born since Donald Leonard moved his pony business to the far end of Chincoteague Island in 1962. But it is doubtful that any one of them came into the world under more traumatic circumstances than the one named Lucky delivered by Arthur, Mr. Leonard’s youngest son, as the foal’s mom lay dying. It is a story that will reach into the hearts of pony owners and pony lovers everywhere.

Donald Leonard passed away in 2010 at age 84. His four children, Carlton, Jane, Donna and Arthur live on the property now where the ponies run loose and Big Oyster Bay is a few steps out the front doors of their homes.

“One thing Dad gave us was his love for Chincoteague ponies,” remembers Arthur. “They are a special breed. They are all different, all special in their own way. Some of them will get in your trash and all of them will eat your flowers.”

The senior Mr. Leonard would be more than pleased to know how Arthur and the rest of his children and grandchildren pulled together to save one of their foals twice from near death. As Arthur tells it, most of the time when their mares are ready to foal they let mother nature take its course. “But when we came up (to the stall area) in the morning Lucky’s mom was in distress,” said Arthur.

The only person present other than Arthur was Sharlene, his older brother Carlton’s wife. “You could tell something was wrong with the mare,” said Arthur. “You can tell when they are stressed. Usually they are up, they are down, turning, looking at their belly, always doing something. She wasn’t doing any of that.

“She was laying down, jaws clinched, legs out rigid and not in the normal birthing process. “There was no sign of Lucky yet,” said Arthur, “but around lunch time there was a little bit of a sign that he was on his way. But he was stuck. One leg was out but every time she had a contraction it would impact so I actually had to reach up in there and finagle things.” Continued Arthur, “I pulled him out once..but he went back in, his mother was in such bad shape.”

Arthur said he didn’t want to do anything wrong. The mare had been in labor for awhile, the foal was all bunched up in the birth canal. “I had a limited window of opportunity,” he said. “When I was able to get hold of his front legs I saw his muzzle and pulled him rest of the way out. He wasn’t breathing.” Arthur then took the umbilical sack from around the newborn’s nose and put him on a blanket. “I rubbed him and that got him going, he started breathing.”

A call was placed to their vet at Eastern Shore Animal Hospital. With Lucky on the blanket taking his first breaths, Arthur still had more to do. With the mare taking her last breaths, Arthur began milking her to get the all- important colostrum that a newborn foal must have. Colostrum is produced by the mammary gland of a mother prior to the production of milk. Only colostrum collected in the first milking has the nutrients and antibodies that a newborn requires. To a newborn foal, it can mean the difference between life and death.

Before Arthur could finish the milking process Wolffie, the mom, died. But Arthur continued milking her, getting the colostrum Lucky would need to survive. “We couldn’t help her but we could help him,” said Arthur.

Meanwhile, Arthur’s sister Donna took off on a shopping trip to Tractor Supply Co. in Pocomoke. On her list, formula, bottles, nipples, bowls and a bucket.

After the vet arrived, using an IV they gave Lucky nutritional supplements and then tried to introduce him to another nursing mare. “It worked at first,” said Arthur, “but three days later Lucky was near death. He couldn’t stand, his equilibrium was off.” So the vet was called again and came and filled him with liquids. Then he drank his milk too fast.”

At that point it was clear Lucky would need 24 hour care. At first members of the family took shifts feeding Lucky with a bottle, which they later learned could not be held too high. Then they used their fingers to get the formula into Lucky’s lips. Finally they tried dipping the nipple in a bowl of formula and moving it to the foal’s mouth. “This worked better than fingers,” said Donna.

After nearly two weeks the Leonards realized they needed help and posted a call for volunteers on Facebook. Several people came forward including some members of the Buyback Babes, the group of women who closely follow the Chincoteague wild ponies.

All through the first days and nights of Lucky’s care, the Leonards and volunteers kept a journal. Everything going in and coming out was recorded, not unlike in a hospital.

“…3:30 a.m. drank 8 ounces, 4:30 no go. At 12:30 p.m. no more sedation needed for Sassy. Sassy was the mare they first tried to nurse Lucky. She liked peppermint, so they got her some to encourage her cooperation.

“…Sassy’s colt walking all around…put Lucky in opposite stall to pick up smell of mare…at 3:30…no sedation…Sassy kicked him once but let him nurse…

…at 6:00 maybe ok…drank twice as much at 7:45…standing up…put lead on Sassy, …Lucky drank easily…Sassy not happy, eventually he nursed.

Lucky walks around out in the barn area at the Leonard pony farm. He is 13 days old in this photo. Photos by Wildponytales

But by 2:30 that Saturday Lucky sat listless and couldn’t get up.

“…sat in Arthur’s lap…Dr. Nuno came and gave 1500 ccs IV fluid…drank 6 ounces of milk…belly swelled up…shaking all over…wrapped him in blankets…

But, little by little, Lucky improved. A later journal entry: “… running in stall like a different horse…no more Sassy, (the mare filling in for the mom who had died)…Art stayed all night…”

Aunt Donna, as she was known to Lucky and others, discovered that the colt liked to chew on paper, magazines, bags, his journal and even the reporter’s notebook while Arthur was being interviewed for this story.

Two weeks after Arthur’s frantic moments bring him into the world Lucky learned to drink his milk formula on his own. Donna showed how they dipped the nipple used on the bottle into the bowl and brought it up to Luck’s lips. Step by step, he got the hang of it and has been drinking from a bowl ever since.

Lucky had lots of care from Arthur’s wife, Mary Ester. “She is an intensive care nurse,” said Donna, “and while he was on Iv’s, she was his full time medical assistant.” Said Donna, “Mary Ester was the one who taught Lucky how to drink from the basin and got him off the bottle.”

Arthur said that by three weeks, since being on an antibiotic, Lucky’s condition was a lot better. “He’s got a veracious appetite. Most of time he’ll meet you at the door wanting to eat, although he had to be awakened on this day to get his picture taken.” exclaimed Arthur.

Arthur said they were all appreciative of the volunteers who helped Lucky. “We could not have done it without them,” he said, “or at least not without some completely worn out Leonard family members. An orphan foal, needing constant watching doesn’t fit into a regular work and home schedule.”

The three younger Leonards own and operate the Refuge Inn next to McDonald’s, and the oldest, Carlton, runs Island Cruises and the Sandbar Shuttle. Carlton also does most of the horse management at the Leonard’s Chincoteague Pony Farm.

Also helping Lucky make it through those first harrowing weeks were other members of the Leonard family, Dr. Glenn Wolffe and Jane Wolffe, Arthur’s sons, Hunter and Ayden and Chris Hamberger who works on the farm.

While he has been around the ponies all his life, Arthur said he never had an experience like he did with Lucky. “I helped deliver a foal once from a small mare, but it was nothing like this.”

So what’s Lucky’s future? Will he be kept with the Leonard herd or sold? “We don’t know yet,” said Arthur. “We all will have to get together and see. I would like to see him go to a therapy group that works with children.”

This summer Lucky was moved to the corral between McDonalds and the Refuge Inn where he became a star, his presence and his story promoted by a poster Donna printed and put on every fence post. “He is learning to work that fence,” said Donna, and getting lots of attention.”

The writer is publisher of www.wildponytales.info, a web magazine that covers Chincoteague and Assateague Islands on the East Coast of Virginia.